Re: I know one when I see one

From: Dace (
Date: Fri 01 Nov 2002 - 07:13:41 GMT

  • Next message: Bill Spight: "Re: I know one when I see one"

    > From: Bill Spight <>
    > Dear Ted,
    > > > So your claim is that memes are alive, right?
    > >
    > > The basic idea of memetics is that memes play the same role in human
    > > evolution that genes play in natural evolution. Memes provide the
    > > particulate aspect of human culture and consciousness, just as genes are
    > > the "particles" of species and organism. The particles of *living*
    > > are necessarily alive, just as the particles of inanimate matter,
    > > and quarks, are not.
    > I can't tell from your reply whether you are claiming that memes are
    > alive, which you seemed to be doing earlier. Is that your claim? Thanks.
    > :-)

    I get the sense you're not comprehending much of what I'm saying. Memes, like genes, are "necessarily alive."

    > > > > > Do the genes for blood type replicate themselves? If so, how?
    > > > >
    > > > > All genes replicate themselves in the process of cell division.
    > > >
    > > > How do the genes for blood type affect cell division?
    > >
    > > It's not that every gene individually replicates itself but that the
    > > material, taken as a whole, replicates itself via the production of the
    > > appropriate enzymes.
    > So you agree that each gene is not a self-replicator per se.

    Genes replicate collectively. The point is that some are individually more useful than others, and a person with a gene that "encodes" a quality harmful to the great cause of reproduction is less likely to pass on any genes, including that one. Genes are the fundamental units of evolution and development. Their capacity for self-replication means, over time, that some are pruned in favor of those that determine for beneficial phenotypic properties.

    You seem to find amusing the idea that genes and memes could be alive and self-existent. Has it occurred to you that your heart is alive? And your blood vessels and muscle cells and the tissues they comprise? That you yourself are among the living? Genes are trivially alive, in the sense of participating in the life of cells and organisms, but more importantly they thrive in their perpetuation of the useful characteristics associated with them. This is how Dawkins understood "selfish" in regard to the gene and its cultural analog, the meme. So, too, memes are trivially alive in their participation in mental life but more to the point in their propagation of the cultural characteristics associated with them.

    Even if Dawkins is wrong about DNA as the central actor-- as the only truly living (self-replicating) thing in the body-- that doesn't mean it's not still self-replicating. We simply find it at the base of a hierarchy of self-perpetuating life-forms, including organisms and species. Move the analogy from Dawkins, the reductionist, to Gould, the (late) multi-levelist, and "memes" are at the base of a hierarchy that includes minds and cultures. But drop the analogy altogether and it's not memetics.


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